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Our Pastors

Pastor John Roekle

Pastor John D. Roekle has been in Racine serving the congregation since 1996.  Ministry began for him in Florence, Wisconsin where he served St. John's Lutheran Church after graduating with a Master of Divinity degree from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wisconsin in 1991 until arriving in Racine.  Born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan, Pastor Roekle went to high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary graduating in 1983.  His next four years were spent at Northwestern College (which amalgamated with Dr. Martin Luther College to form Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota), graduating in 1987.

In 1990, Pastor Roekle married Katherine (Katy) Behnke.  Together they have four sons: David (married to Hannah); Michael; Stephen; and Benjamin.  The Roekle family has enjoyed traveling, especially to cities with Major League Baseball parks.  He is an avid sports fan and still enjoys playing basketball.

Recent Sermons by Our Pastors:

God Has Set You Apart - Pastor John Roekle

February 10, 2019 [Epiphany 5] Judges 13:6-24 J.D.Roekle

6The woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and he looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask where he was from, and he did not tell me his name. 7But he did say to me, ‘Listen! You will be pregnant and give birth to a son. So now, do not drink wine or beer, and do not eat anything unclean, because the young man will be a Nazirite dedicated to God from his mother’s womb until the day of his death.’”

8Then Manoah pleaded with the Lord, “Please, Lord, the man of God whom you sent—please let him come to us again, to teach us what we are to do for the young man who is to be born.”

9God heard the voice of Manoah, and the Angel of God returned to the woman while she was sitting in the field. Once again her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman ran quickly and told her husband. She said to him, “Come, see! The man who appeared to me came to me again today.”

11Manoah then got up and followed his wife. He came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife?”

He answered, “I am.”

12Manoah said, “Now, when your words come true, what will be the rule for the young man and his actions?”

13The Angel of the Lord answered Manoah, “The woman must be careful concerning everything that I said to her. 14She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine. She must not drink wine or beer, and she must not eat any unclean thing. Everything that I commanded her she must observe.”

15Manoah then said to the Angel of the Lord, “May we persuade you to stay, so that we may prepare a young goat for you?”

16But the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Even if you keep me here, I will not eat any of your food, but if you make a burnt offering, offer it up to the Lord.” (Manoah did not yet know that he was the Angel of the Lord.)

17Then Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we can honor you when your words come true?”

18The Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask about my name? It is wonderful.”

19Manoah took the young goat and the grain offering, and he offered them on the rock to the Lord, who did something wonderful as Manoah and his wife were watching. 20As the flame rose from the altar toward the sky, the Angel of the Lord ascended upward from the altar in the flame. Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell facedown to the ground. 21The Angel of the Lord did not appear to Manoah and his wife again, but now Manoah knew that he was the Angel of the Lord.

22Manoah said to his wife, “We will certainly die, because we have seen God.”

23But his wife said to him, “If the Lord wanted to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, and he would not have shown us all these things, nor would he have let us hear this message at this time.”

24The woman gave birth to a son, and she named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

God Has Set You Apart

Dear Friends in Christ,

When I0 think of Samson, I can’t help but think of his legendary strength. How he tore a lion apart a lion with his bare hands. Then there was the time he caught 300 foxes, tied them up in pairs by their tails, and somehow fastened a torch to each set of tails. He let the foxes go, burning up the grain filed, vineyard and olive groves. On another occasion, while men plotted to kill him, Samson got up early in the morning tore out the gates and posts of the entrance to the city, and carried them up a nearby hill. On yet another occasion, he struck down 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. Of course, the one that tops them all is the account of how he lost his life. With eyes gouged out and his strength gone, Samson taken to the temple where the Philistines were making sacrifices to their false god Dagon. Samson asked to be put among the pillars that supported the temple. There he prayed to God that his strength would be restored one last time. It was, and Samson pushed his hands out on the pillars with all his might and brought the temple down, bringing thousands of Philistines down with him.

Why did Samson have such strength? God had blessed him with it. God had consecrated Samson. He set him apart. God did so, because he had plans for Samson. You weren’t blessed with supernatural strength, but nonetheless, God has set you apart. He has plans for you too. Let’s focus on that as we take a closer look at Samson.

The plans that God had for Samson were made before Samson was born, and even before Samson was conceived. And it was God himself who delivered those plans to Samson’s parents. They weren’t aware exactly who they were talking to at first. They described him as “a man of God” who looked “an angel of God.” But it turned out that it was indeed God.

And God had a special message. Their son was to be set apart. He was to be a Nazirite. A Nazirite made a special vow of dedication to the Lord. Nazirites were to abide by three primary rules: they were not supposed to drink any alcoholic beverages; they were not to cut their hair; and they were not to go near a dead body, even if it was a relative. While Nazarites were generally able to choose how long they wanted to make this vow of dedication, God chose the length of time for Samson. The Nazarite vow for him was to be for life.

God’s plans for you started well before you were born or even conceived. By the way, in a world that doesn’t often value the unborn, God clearly does. Not only is God the one who forms human life in the womb. God is the one who makes plans for each life. It is not the right of a person to choose whether or not a child should be born or aborted. It is God’s choice that he allowed a conception to take place and that conception is to result in the birth of a child.

You can give thanks that your parents valued your life in order to bring you into this world. God’s plans for you include setting you apart. He made his plan for your life known as you came to faith through his Word or through the waters of holy Baptism.

By setting you apart in this way, God has called you by the Gospel to be his own. You have been set aside to be in his kingdom. That means that you have been set apart from the unbelieving world.

Now some have taken that to the extreme. Being set apart from the unbelieving world, there are those throughout history who have tried to separate themselves completely from the sinful world. That’s how monasteries developed where monks would live in seclusion.

But that’s not what God intends. God sets you apart for a life of service to him, and to others. That service begins with worship. When the Angel of the Lord told Samson’s parents the news about his birth and that Samson would be a Nazirite, they offered to feed the Angel of the Lord. Instead of being fed, though, the Angel of the Lord said they should make a burnt offering to the Lord. So that’s what they did.

In recognizing that God has set you aside for a life of service to him, you and I ought to regularly respond by offering up our thanks and praise to God who has loved us so dearly by sacrificing his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, for us. If it wasn’t for Jesus, God would not set us apart. Our sin would prevent us from being his children. But Jesus graciously took our place. And so, we take the time to mark this. To give him glory. We praise him as we get together to worship. We praise him daily in our private worship life as we pray and hear what his Word has to say.

Being a Nazirite set someone like Samson apart from not just the world, but also from fellow believers. It was a special role God had set him aside to play. In the Gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus calling Peter and his fishing partners, James and John. Jesus tells them to leave their nets so that they could be Jesus’ fulltime partners in fishing for people.

Today, too, God sets aside some to do public ministry. To do ministry on behalf of other people. Paul says that Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Eph. 4:11,12)

Think about why it is important to have pastors, teachers, chaplains and missionaries. The New Testament lesson from Romans spells it out. The object is for everyone to be saved by calling on the Lord’s name. In order for them to believe, they have to hear about it. In order for them to hear about it, they need someone to preach it to them. And so, the role of the public ministry is a crucial one. Pray for those who are pastors and teachers. Encourage them. Encourage young people to consider training for fulltime work in God’s kingdom.

But God hasn’t set everyone aside to do public ministry. In fact, the public ministry is only for relatively few. That being said, even if you are not a pastor or teacher or missionary, God has still set you aside to serve him.

You each have been placed in certain stations of life. No matter what those stations are, you have been called to serve the Lord by being faithful in those stations. Whether you are a father, mother, aunt, son, brother, sister, cousin, employer or employee, retired person, neighbor, or citizen, you are to faithfully serve in that capacity.

And as you faithfully serve, you are, as disciples of Christ, to look for opportunities to also speak the Gospel to others. If you are a father or mother, God set you aside to pass the message on to your children. Grandpas and grandmas, you can pass the Gospel on to your grandchildren. It’s the same for you if you are an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin. If you have neighbors, opportunities may present themselves to speak the Gospel to them. If you have co-workers, you can look for opportunities to tell people about Jesus. That’s true even if you are retired. Think about the people you may come across as a retired person that others may not. Christ has set you apart to get his message out.

You don’t have to have the strength of Samson. You don’t have to be able to preach like Peter or Paul. You have been set aside by God to be his own. And as such, you can tell the love of Jesus. You can say he died for all. There’s not just one way to say it. God made you unique. You can say it in your own way. You can even bring them to someone who will say it for you.

The bottom line is this. When Samson’s parents realized that they had been in the presence of God, his father said “We will certainly die, because we have seen God.” At one time or another everyone comes to that realization. Because of our sin, we cannot be in God’s presence. But Samson’s mother had the answer for this: ““If the Lord wanted to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands.” May this reassurance be yours: You and I can stand in the presence of God, because God has accepted the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is the truth we have been set apart to faithfully proclaim. Amen.

Jesus" Message of Release - Pastor John Roekle

14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through all the surrounding area. 15He was teaching in their synagogues and being honored by everyone.

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As was his custom, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to set free those who are oppressed,

19and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

20He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began to tell them, “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus’ Message of Release

Dear Friend in Christ,

This past summer, a teenage in northern England received a commendation from the local police department for her efforts in helping to save lives. Officials say that her efforts helped to save at least 8 lives. What did she do? She wrote more than 40 heartfelt notes of encouragement and then attached them to the railings of a local bridge. The notes, officials say, helped to provide a critical boost for those who might be in the midst of a mental health crisis.

So how are you doing? On the outside, perhaps you’re doing fine, but what about the inside? Are you able to hide the inner turmoil? Sin is the culprit that causes that turmoil. We see the wickedness of the world. We are affected by the evil words and actions of other people. And then there is our own sinful nature. We are held captive by our own thoughts. Thoughts of things that we did wrong in our past. Thoughts of the sin we are currently struggling with. Thoughts that wonder when it’s all going to end. Take heart, and know that Jesus realizes your struggles. Even more, take heart and know that Jesus has some encouraging words for you. Let’s take the next several minutes to reflect on a special message from Jesus: Jesus’ message of release.

Jesus made his way back to his home town, and his home congregation. The synagogue where he would have attended through the years he grew up and into early adulthood. By now, word had gotten back to these people. Jesus was now becoming famous. Just 6 miles down the road in Cana is where Jesus changed water into wine. This miraculous act, coupled with word about what Jesus was saying, made this a highly anticipated visit.

This particular group of listeners was somewhat unique. They had seen Jesus grow up. They knew he had been in the family business, he was a carpenter. There hadn’t been anything too notable about Jesus in the past. And yet, Jesus had been generating a lot of excitement. The people gathered there were curious at the very least as to what Jesus might say.

Jesus was in that synagogue to preach. It was the custom that renowned guest speakers be given a chance to preach or teach on a lesson from the prophets. Jesus was accorded that privilege. Leading up to Jesus’ sermon, allow me to set the scene. Our worship services have their roots in the synagogue services. So there are similarities between what we are doing today, and what was done in those synagogue services in Jesus’ day. There would be prayers and Scripture lessons. Generally there would be a lesson read from the Law, which was from one of the books of Moses – Genesis through Deuteronomy – and there would be a lesson read from one of the prophets. Following the reading from the prophets, a speaker would often provide commentary on the lesson.

This is what Jesus provided on this particular day. He would read a lesson and then essentially preach a sermon on it. The Bible was contained on a series of scrolls, and so Jesus took the Isaiah scroll and came to the part he wanted to read. He read from the lesson that serves as our Old Testament reading today: Isaiah 61. Did you note the reaction of the people once Jesus read the text and then got ready to preach? “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.”

Is there a time in your life that you can’t wait to hear what someone has to say? They have your rapt attention. You hang on their every word. That’s what was happening at that synagogue in Nazareth. Their eyes were glued to Jesus, curious as to what he was going to say next.

All we have of what Jesus said next is essentially his theme for his sermon. He said: “Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, what he just read from Isaiah is all about him. These were striking words. Words they would have never heard before. In fact, much of what they would have heard is a message of the law. You must do better! You must be better!

But for the person being held captive by their own sin, that wasn’t a message that could bring any comfort. In fact, it’s a message that could finally only drive a person to despair.

That’s what is so refreshingly different about the message that Jesus offered to them. Jesus has good news to preach to the poor in spirit. He has come to proclaim freedom to the captives, and to set the oppressed free.

This would have been a message that resounded with the people. After all, they were looking for help from someone historically. Their ancestors had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians. And now they had felt the oppressive weight of Roman rule in their country.

But Jesus has a message of release! Not release from the oppressive government. That was never going to be permanent anyway. The message of release that Jesus gave was much deeper than that. It is a release from sin and guilt.

Some time ago, the police department in Minersville, Pennsylvania received an envelope with $5 in it and a note accompanying it. The note read: “Dear PD, I’ve been carrying this ticket around for 40 plus years. Always intending to pay. Forgive me if I don’t give you my info. With respect, Dave.” The man wrote as the return address: “Feeling guilty, Wayward Road, Anytown, CA.”

Can you imagine carrying around that guilt for all those years? I think you can imagine it. And you likely do more than imagine it. You live it. You carry around guilt. Guilt from how you treated someone. Guilt from a sin you’re struggling with privately. Guilt from not living up to someone else’s expectations. Guilt from not living up to God’s expectations.

Whatever guilt you are carrying around, Jesus has a message for you. A message that releases you from your guilt because it releases you from your sin.

Jesus’ message to you is that you are living under his grace. Think about what that means. He knows that you sin. He knows that you carry guilt because of it. He knows you are incapable of making up for the wrongs you have done. He also knows that you are incapable of doing everything right as you go forward. You are incapable of being perfect.

The message he has for you then is that he came to provide you the release that you need. It is Jesus who came to do everything, and I mean everything right. He accomplished exactly that. And in so doing, he also died in your place so that you would be released from all your sins. He literally sent sin away out of God’s sight forever. Jesus tells us that we are free from the bonds of sin, because it is Jesus himself who has released us.

That means that you are now living in “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus’ original audience would have understood that when talking about “the year of the Lord’s favor,” he was talking about what was known as the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was something God had commanded in Leviticus that the people were to mark. The Year of Jubilee took place once every 50 years. During that year, 3 primary things were to take place: 1. Any land people had acquired was to be returned to their original owner. This was a reminder that what they had wasn’t really theirs in the first place. It belongs to God. 2. There would be no crops grown. The land would lie fallow. This was a reminder that they were to put their full trust in God, who promised to provide them in abundance before the Year of Jubilee came. 3. Any person who couldn’t repay a debt and had subsequently sold themselves into the service of another person, would now be released from their obligation. What a great reminder that is of the release that Jesus has provided for you!

So think of your life as a perpetual Year of Jubilee. You are living in God’s grace. You are living in his forgiveness. He has released you from the debt of your sin, so that now you can freely serve him.

Jesus knows that his message of release is not something that comes naturally to us. Sin and guilt are daily companions. That’s why he encourages you to hear it often. Come back next Sunday, and hear it proclaimed to you again. Let Jesus proclaim it to you every day as you make his Word your daily companion. Jesus has released you! Enjoy living in the year of jubilee…in His grace. Amen.

God's Hidden Help - Pastor John Roekle

January 20, 2019 [Epiphany 2] John 2:11-12 J.D.Roekle

Three days later, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. 2Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.”

4Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My time has not come yet.”

5His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

6Six stone water jars, which the Jews used for ceremonial cleansing, were standing there, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. 8Then he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” And they did.

9When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had now become wine, he did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew). The master of the banquet called the bridegroom 10and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have had plenty to drink, then the cheaper wine. You saved the good wine until now!”

11This, the beginning of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

God’s Hidden Help

Dear Friends in Christ,

Where in the world is God? Have you ever wondered that? Even for a fleeting moment? After all, we all have doubts. Those doubts are often fed by voices from the outside. Voices which try to convince you God isn’t real, otherwise “he wouldn’t let this or that happen.” But there is a voice inside that also feeds the uncertainty. Our sinful flesh continues to war against us and wear us down.

Even John the Baptist experienced this. Remember that John was the one who had the special privilege of pointing out that Jesus was the Messiah, the one anointed to do the work of God. The one anointed to be our Savior. John pointed to Jesus and said to his disciples: “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” John knew how great Jesus was, since he said he wasn’t even worthy to unstrap his sandal. When Jesus came to John to be baptized, he knew things were reversed. Jesus should be the one to baptize John! Of course, Jesus had a purpose in being baptized, but that’s beside the point. The point is, that John knew very clearly that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. This was his God-appointed work to point this fact out! This is what John did for a living, so to speak.

And yet, we hear John saying late in his life: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Doesn’t that sound like a little bit of an echo of the question: “Where in the world is God?”? These are striking words coming from John. And yet, when you realize what was happening at the time, you should be able to understand it. John was on death row. He was about to be executed by Herod. His faith needed to be bolstered, and Jesus did just that by reassuring John through his disciples.

Why would John have those doubts? For one, he wasn’t able to see Jesus, since John was in a jail cell. But more than that, when John did see or think of Jesus, think about what his eyes or mind told him. Jesus is a pretty ordinary person. He knew his mother and earthly father. There was nothing extraordinary about Jesus. He was a normal looking person. In other words, the true nature of Jesus, the Son of God, was hidden. And today, we want to see that this is often a characteristic of God and his Son: that he is hidden. And just as he is hidden, sometimes the help that he extends to us is hidden too.

Jesus and some of his newly called disciples find themselves at a joyous event. They’ve been invited to a wedding. But there’s a snag in the wedding celebration. That’s not uncommon, is it. If you’ve planned a wedding, inevitably something occurs that might make the bride or groom anxious. Some detail is forgotten. Something unplanned happens. Some people that RSVP’d don’t come, or more people come than expected.

The problem in Cana was that they’ve run out of wine. That raised a potentially embarrassing situation for the wedding couple. But then Jesus intervenes. Jesus does the unexplainable and somehow changes water into wine. He simply had the servants at the banquet put water into 6 large stone jars, each with the capacity to hold 20 to 30 gallons. He told the servants to draw some out of the stone jars and take it to the master of the banquet, the one who was in charge of making sure that all the details were covered. When he tasted it, he remarked to the bridegroom that this was not just some cheap wine that you get for $5 a bottle. This was some expensive tasting wine. This was some good stuff.

We marvel at the miracle. After all, this wasn’t some kind of trick. Remember that when a magician does a trick, there’s an explanation behind it as to how he did. Now, a good magician doesn’t reveal his secrets, but nonetheless, he somehow fooled your eyes.

The nature of a miracle is such that there is no trick involved. What you see happening, actually happened. The water actually turned into wine. What that means then is that there is power behind the action. And that power can only have one source. It must come from God.

That is what Jesus is beginning to reveal to those around him, especially his disciples. That is actually what the season of Epiphany is all about. Jesus continuing to reveal himself. Just think how necessary that was from the start. Jesus didn’t appear with a glorious splash at all. In fact, he was born into this world just as any of us are, but even more humbly than most children are born. If it weren’t for the angels getting the shepherds’ attention, and the Wise Men bringing their extravagant gifts, Jesus’ birth would have looked like any ordinary birth.

What this means is that the Son of God hid himself. He cloaked himself in human flesh, and concealed himself in the tiny town of Bethlehem and then lived in the northern part of Israel in the region of Galilee. In fact, the place where he lived, Nazareth, didn’t necessarily even have a good reputation or at least wasn’t thought of as any place where somebody great would come from. When one of Jesus’ disciples was first hearing about him, he responded: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Because Jesus, the Son of God, was hidden, he needed to be revealed. People needed to come to know that he was the one who had come to save.

By doing this miracle then, he was confirming to his disciples that he truly was the Messiah. His miracle was a sign that he was indeed God. And what was the end result? “He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” The disciples’ confidence that this indeed was the one sent by God the Father was strengthened.

Jesus’ ability to turn water into wine is also designed to strengthen your trust in Jesus. It is another evidence of the truth that Jesus is both true God and true man with the ability to rescue us from our sins. It should affirm to us that Jesus is who said he was. He is truly God!

But there’s a detail in our text that doesn’t seem to get much attention. I don’t want us to miss it since it does teach us a lesson. John writes: “When the master of the banquet tasted the water that had now become wine, he did not know where it came from.” The Bible makes a point of saying that the servants knew, but the master of the banquet didn’t. Now at first glance it may seem like it isn’t a very important detail.

But think about what that says about Jesus. He helps us even when we aren’t aware that he is there. He helps us even when we doubt him. In fact, we can sometimes be completely oblivious to his help. We might wonder where in the world is God, but he is there in the person of Jesus faithfully working behind the scenes.

This church is not here by mistake. Jesus had a hand in planting in as he faithfully sends his Spirit to work through his Word. When that Word works in the hearts of people it creates or strengthens faith that goes into action.

Yes, God’s hidden help comes to us through the means of grace. Through the Gospel working through normal looking things. Through the book we call the Bible. Through words from that Bible connected with water. Through words from that Bible connected with bread and wine. There we receive the hidden help of God as we also receive the body and blood of Christ hidden behind the bread and wine.

How often in your daily lives is God’s hidden help there as he works through people who assist you. People who are moved by the Holy Spirit to follow out Christ’s command to love him and love their neighbor. People who do unexpected things or things that you aren’t even aware of.

Don’t take it for granted that although God is hidden in many respects, he knows all that goes on in your life. God is also aware of all the details. And just as he rescued you by sending Jesus to live and die and rise for you, he is also working behind the scenes to help you take care of the details too. Amen.